Thursday, March 31, 2011


100 wins. All I keep hearing about is 100 wins. It's something the Red Sox haven't done since 1946. But is that really the achievement to long for? The Sox lost the 1946 World Series. And there are some parallels to that 1946 team, which led the Majors in offense, scoring half a run per game more than anyone else, but were 9th of 16 teams in runs allowed. They lost the World Series to St. Louis, the team that allowed the fewest runs in baseball.

Then, as now, pitching wins. And that's where I'll start this preview. Because even though a great offense can win 100 regular season games, it's pitching that wins 11 postseason games.

The Sox rotation looks the same as last year. And it has just as many question marks. We can pretty much bank on Jon Lester to have an ERA below 3.50, and 16 to 20 wins. He's been the rock of the rotation, and one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball the last 3 seasons.

Then there's Buchholz. Call me negative, but him repeating his 2010 feats is not guaranteed. We've all sort of assumed he will once again register an ERA around 2.50 and win close to 20 games. Maybe he will. Even 17 wins and a 3.00 ERA would be excellent. But he's 26. He has one great season under his belt. He's still a question mark. Even though he's overshadowed by much larger question marks in the rotation.

15-10 record. 3.96 ERA. 23 homeruns. That's what Josh Beckett averages every 162 games in his career. Even I was a little stunned to see that. It's so below average. With the Red Sox, he's been 71-40 with a 4.29 ERA. And since 2008, he's been atrocious. It's gotten to the point that Beckett isn't much of a question mark anymore. He's a bad pitcher until proven otherwise.

Among qualifying pitchers, John Lackey had the 73rd lowest ERA in baseball last year. He did eat innings, but that's pretty much it. You can live with him as a #4 starter, but if Beckett doesn't have a good year, he's your #3. And if Buchholz falters, he's your #2. And that's an alarming thought.

Then there's Daisuke. If any other pitcher won 18 games their sophomore season, then was repeatedly injured, struggled when healthy, and averaged 96 walks per full season, we'd be talking about sending him to Pawtucket. So what makes Daisuke so special? I just don't have a good feeling about Daisuke in 2011. Even when healthy, even when at his best, he doesn't go deep into games. His 18 win season was coupled with 167.2 innings pitched. 90 pitchers managed to surpass that mark in 2010.

Sorry folks, but the rotation is too vulnerable, and too dependent on all the stars aligning. Actually, it's dependant on time travel. If Buchholz is the same as he was in 2010, if Beckett is the same as he was in 2007, if Daisuke is the same as 2008, if Lackey is the same as he was in 2007 and in another city....

But it's 2011.

Thankfully, the bullpen looks quite a bit better than last year. The Sox blew the 4th most saves in baseball last year. And with shaky starting pitching, the bullpen will be worked hard in 2011.

Papelbon is still the closer. And even though he's not as elite as he used to be, he's still good enough. It'd be tough to find an improvement over him, but it won't be hard to find a replacement.

Daniel Bard has impressed as a set-up man, with a 1.11 WHIP in 124 career relief innings. Bard and Papelbon represent a quality 8th and 9th inning tandem. But they can't be overworked. They need help.

Bobby Jenks is a possible option. That's what the Sox did to this bullpen: added options. They signed a number of guys, hoping that one or two would work out as reliable set-up men. In the dice game that is relief pitching, this is a viable strategy to build a quality bullpen.

But Jenks is coming off a bad year. And he's gotten progressively worse since 2007. You never know with relievers, but it's hard to imagine that trend changing.

I'm much more optimistic about Dan Wheeler, who's pitched with success in the AL East. He's 33, but has 530 appearances under his belt. He'll wind up as the secondary set-up guy alongside Bard.

Wakefield will be a mop up man and spot starter. Doubront will be used against lefties.

The rest of the bullpen will be a revolving door of arms. Maybe one will be reliable enough to be a 6th inning man, or the type of guy that's brought in when the Sox are down 2 runs in the 7th.

Overrall, the bullpen isn't great, but it's no longer a liability. The rotation, however, is very suspect. So much needs to happen for it to work. And so much can go wrong for it to fail. I don't see Beckett winning more than 15 games. I don't see Daisuke throwing more than 180 innings. I see Buchholz having a good-not-great year. I don't see Lackey doing much better than he did in 2010.

But the offense should be able to make up for these shortcomings. At least in the regular season.

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